Professor's book examines ethnic political movements

A new book by Dr. Lisa Glidden of SUNY Oswego’s political science department looks at how indigenous movements developed in South America, as well as factors behind ethnic political actions across the globe.

“Mobilizing Ethnic Identity in the Andes: A Study of Ecuador and Peru” represents an updated version of Glidden’s thesis from the 1990s, but the topic remains fresh as attempts at nation-building across ethnic and cultural divides continue in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

She delves into the central question “Why is it that sometimes people mobilize along ethnic lines, and sometimes they don’t?” The topic is important “because ethnic movements can be so powerful,” Glidden explained. “It’s not easy to get that kind of mobilization, but it can be very meaningful and empowering.”

Yet despite high-profile attempts at empowerment—with nationalism and separatism running from Europe to Africa to Asia to even the Quebecoise in Canada—“given the number of people who could organize themselves into ethnic movements, this kind of thing is actually rare,” she said.

Different reactions

Indigenous movements picked up momentum in Ecuador as international preparations got under way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus setting foot in the New World in 1992. Indigenous groups resisted the narrative and sought to reframe the discussion in terms of the imperialism that had followed Westerners’ arrival, Glidden said. This movement appeared throughout South America except in Peru, which she found puzzling.

And while activities in South America tended to be peaceful, the decade also saw ethnic movements in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda that turned deadly and devastating. “It seemed during that part of the 1990s, ethnic movements were breaking out all over the world,” Glidden said, after a period in which the Cold War masked many ethnic conflicts.

Contrasting studies

Ecuador and Peru represented interesting and contrasting case studies. They have the same national language and basic geography, both former parts of the Incan Empire. Glidden examined different factors among movements in the highlands of both countries as well as in the Amazon region they share.

“In Ecuador, it is a national movement, and there are lots of different groups that are considered indigenous. They all speak different languages and have different histories,” yet more easily came together for one effort, Glidden said.

“Peru is more organized around classes—people choose their class identification as peasants, for example, over their ethnic identification,” Glidden said. Their concerns are carried foremost by unions, which represent them as a class even though they also have taken up ethnic issues, she added.

A mistrust of government, even when it is progressive, has become a factor. “The Peruvian state has been trying to implement bilingual education, which people in Ecuador have been fighting for,” Glidden noted, yet some Peruvians think bilingual education would be used to further divisions.

Evolving identity

An intriguing detail of the identity study involves the use of the term “Indian” in the region. “Even in the early 1990s, people would use ‘Indian’ as a derogatory term,” she said. “Indigenous people reclaimed that word and made it something to be proud of. It interested me how words can become reclaimed as part of a group identity.”

Glidden performed some fieldwork—four months in Ecuador, three months in Peru—including coding Ecuadorian newspapers from 1981 to 2005 to see how coverage and characterization of indigenous people evolved. She tied it to research on the formation of identity, along ethnic lines and otherwise.

While academic publisher Lexington Books put out the book, Glidden said she sees it as accessible to general audiences interested in ethnicity and social movements, as the book spans political science, sociology, Latin American history and studies, psychology and ethnic studies.

PHOTO CAPTION: Charting movements—Lisa Glidden of SUNY Oswego’s political science department looks at how and why ethnic political movements happen—or don’t happen—in her new book “Mobilizing Ethnic Identity in the Andes: A Study of Ecuador and Peru.”

(Posted: Jun 22, 2011)

Tags: world awareness, political science, peru, glidden, ecuador